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Thread: Episode 19 - "Frozen" (PG)

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    Episode 19 - "Frozen" (PG)

    Title: Frozen
    Written by: Zannie

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    The Prom had been hilarious.

    Kevin Wilson couldn’t remember when he’d had such a good time. All of those teenagers in one place—experiencing excitement, nervousness, jealousy, desire, anger, joy, or all of it at once.

    In the crowd, it hadn’t been difficult for Kevin to touch people unobtrusively, intensifying their emotions until they couldn’t help but express their feelings. It had been blissfully chaotic: the fights, the groping, the raucous shouts of enthusiasm or rage.

    Until Gina had gone and cooled everyone down.

    Lying in bed shortly after he finally got home, Kevin scowled up at the ceiling. Once he’d realized that she was going to reverse all of his actions, he had finally given up and left the Prom with his girlfriend.

    His twin sister could often be a pain in the butt.

    Although, when Kevin reflected on it, he realized that he’d basically done all he could at the high school. It was getting kind of boring anyway. There must be something else he could do with his powers—something more dramatic, more far-reaching. Teenagers acted stupid about half the time anyway, so affecting their emotions didn’t create quite the stir he was looking for.

    He folded his hands under his head and closed his eyes, far too lazy to actually get out of his clothes for the night. What could he do? Where should he turn his attention to next?
    Several fleeting ideas passed through his mind, but he rejected them immediately as too hard, too boring, or too dangerous.

    Somehow, he had to strike the right balance. The right fuse was just waiting out there somewhere for him to light.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    “Kevin’s been causing all of this?” Clark asked, feeling a startling drop in his stomach.

    Gina nodded and looked horribly guilty. “He has. It’s been going on for about three weeks now. He started small—just one or two people a day. But he’s gotten progressively worse, and he was out of control at the Prom just now. I can go around after him and reverse the effects of his touch, but I could barely keep up with him tonight.”

    Clark furrowed his brow and took a deep breath, thinking hard. He, Gina, and Lana had gone to the Torch office immediately after the Prom had dispersed, and the three of them were sitting there in the middle of the night in their fancy clothes, trying to figure out what to do about this situation.

    “How is he doing it?” Lana asked, leaning forward in her chair, looking tired and delicate in her pink dress and slightly smudged makeup.

    Gina shook her head. “We don’t know. We just discovered these abilities recently, so we don’t know if they’re new or if we just didn’t know about them before. He heats up people’s emotions. I cool them down. It’s bizarre.”

    Sighing, Clark looked at her expressionless face. She’d always struck him as cold and unfeeling, but at the moment he could see a hint of genuine panic in her green eyes. “A lot of strange things happen in Smallville, and a lot of it seems to be caused by the strange effects of the meteor rocks.”

    Nodding as if she knew what he was talking about, Gina responded, “I’d heard about some of that. Do you think that might have something to do with what’s happened to us?”

    Clark shrugged. “I don’t know. We’ll have to look into it.” He glanced at the computer beside him—the screen was dark and blank. “Chloe is always better at this stuff than I am. I wish she were here to help us.”

    “Where is she, anyway?” Lana asked, her face a little strange. “I ran into her in the hall after you . . .” She glanced over at Gina and rephrased, “When I was upset, and she was really mean and rude to me.”

    The heaviness in Clark’s belly started to twist. “She was?” For some reason, it didn’t really surprise him—just made him worry even more. What was happening to Chloe? She’d been his friend for so many years, and it was like she was becoming a stranger? “I didn’t see her leave, but she must have. Maybe she and Lucas . . .” His voice trailed off, horribly conscious of Gina, sitting across from him and staring at him with impersonal acuteness.

    Lana scrunched up her face. “Do you think so?” she whispered. “I didn’t think . . .”

    Clark didn’t know what to think. He wouldn’t have dreamed of suspecting such a thing of the Chloe he used to know. But she was going through so many changes. Who knew what she would be interested in—or who she would be interested in?

    All he could do was be there for her and try to understand her. He shrugged. “Anyway, I’m sure she’ll be glad to help, so hopefully she’ll get in touch with us tomorrow. There’s not much we can do tonight anyway.”

    “We’ll need to keep an eye on him,” Lana put in quietly. “To make sure he doesn’t start getting in trouble again before we get more information.”

    Gina pressed her lips together. “I’ll follow him, and I’ll tell my parents . . . something so they can help look out for him too. Fortunately, I can reverse anything he does, unless I lose him in a crowd or something.” She stood up. Looked down at Clark. “I’m sorry about all this.”

    “Don’t be,” Clark assured her. “It’s not your fault. Thanks for keeping your head and fixing what you can. If we can figure out what happened to you, maybe we can find a way to reverse it. And, if not, we’ll just have to either talk sense into Kevin or physically prevent him from causing harm.”

    Her face contorting a little, Gina nodded once more and left the Torch office, gliding out like a shadow or a ghost.

    After a long moment of silence, Lana murmured, “She’s not quite as weird as I thought.”

    “Yeah,” Clark admitted. “If I were to suspect one of those twins of being dangerous, it definitely wouldn’t have been Kevin.” He leaned back in his chair, suddenly exhausted.
    Far too much had happened today. Now he just wanted to go to bed.

    “Are you okay?” he asked softly, darting a sideways look over at Lana.

    She gave him a sad smile. “Yeah, I’m okay. Maybe things will make more sense in the morning.”

    “I hope so,” Clark muttered.

    He really, really hoped so. Nothing made sense at the moment. The Prom had been almost surreal. He’d told his secret to Lana, but it hadn’t been a blinding epiphany. More like an impending weight of dread. And then there was the whole Chloe weirdness—he really hoped she and Lucas weren’t . . . And now there was another crisis to try to avert.

    He was so tired. Didn’t really want to do any of this anymore.

    He heaved himself up to his feet and reached down to help Lana up as well. Even though he didn’t feel like it, he had to do make sure Kevin didn’t hurt anyone.

    Sometimes you didn’t have a choice. Sometimes you just did things anyway.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex stared down at Chloe’s blank face in the moonlight. Her cheek was unnaturally cold against his palm, and her eyes held only the slightest hint of desperation.

    His chest had clenched at the sound of her soft, pleading voice asking him for help. And he was momentarily disoriented at the shock of feeling one thing so deeply then suddenly being hit by another.

    He had come out here trying not to grieve for Lucas, musing about how his life would be spent alone. But now he was burdened with the responsibility of trying to help Chloe, and the chill haze of the surreal scene had abruptly sharpened into what felt like a crisis.

    Lex blinked. Had no idea what to do.

    Did the obvious. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

    She shook her head and leaned her head away from his hand. “I don’t know,” she pronounced, her voice completely expressionless. “Something has happened to me. I can’t . . . feel anymore.”

    Lex wrinkled his forehead. “You can’t feel?” he repeated, studying her empty face intently. Something was definitely wrong with her, but her words had made no sense.

    “I can’t feel,” she said again. “I can think, do things, be myself. I just can’t seem to feel any emotions.”

    He couldn’t even imagine such a state, but that would explain why Chloe had been acting so cold and unsympathetic with him. Despite himself, it was almost comforting—that she hadn’t been as unfeeling toward him as he’d thought. “Do you know how it happened?”

    “No,” she stated, staring at him with wide, disinterested eyes. “Fairly recently, I believe. When I was at the Prom.” She closed her eyes. “The whole thing is a blur until I decided to leave. Then everything became crystal clear, and now I’m thinking in a purely rational, clinical way.” After a pause, she cocked her head. “That doesn’t sound like me, does it?”

    “No,” he admitted, turning up one side of his mouth. “It definitely doesn’t sound like you.”

    He felt remarkably better, even though Chloe wasn’t whole. He was no longer wandering around lost and purposeless—he now had a goal, a mission to fulfill. “What do you remember that might help us?”

    She shook her head again. “I came here to think, but I believe I’m too tired.” She appeared to be assessing her state like a doctor or a scientist. “My memories aren’t as sharp as they should be, and I think I’ll do a better job at working this out after I’ve rested.”

    Lex had the ridiculous urge to laugh at how unlike Chloe this plan was. She would normally have worked herself into an exhausted stupor before she gave up once an investigation—no matter how senseless it was to continue working in exhaustion. “All right. I’ll take you home so you can rest, and we’ll figure it out in the morning.”

    She nodded mutely and walked toward their parked cars. The sight of her car made Lex remember something. “What happened with Lucas?” he asked mildly, trying not to reveal his real need to know what his brother had been up to.

    Chloe turned to glance at him, as if she’d momentarily forgotten he was there. “He left.”

    Lex tightened his lips. He’d already known that Lucas had left. “I hope he took you home first.”

    “No. I got home on my own. I told Lucas to leave without me.” She didn’t appear to really care about any of this. Was just standing beside her car in her shimmering white dress, the hem if which was getting slightly dirty from brushing the ground. “So he did.”

    Trying not to frown, Lex pursued, “Why did you tell him to go?”

    Chloe gave a half-shrug. “I was tired of being with him after all the groping.”

    “What?” Lex demanded, his fists clenching at his sides. He wasn’t sure what he had expected, but it certainly wasn’t this.

    She looked at him curiously, as if she were mildly interested in his dramatic
    reaction. “There has been some kind of emotional infection going around the high school, leading people to have extreme emotions that they are unable to suppress. The Prom was a mess; everyone was going crazy. Lucas must have been infected as well, and he got all hot and bothered and gropey with me.”

    She was gazing off at the horizon now, and it was one of the most incongruous things Lex had ever witnessed: her saying those words but clearly not caring about their significance.

    Lex, on the other hand, cared very much. And he felt rage boiling inside of him at the thought of his reckless, thoughtless brother coming on to his eighteen-year-old friend. “Tell me exactly what he did,” Lex demanded coldly.

    Chloe turned back to eye him blankly and raised her eyebrows. “A little groping and a little kissing. I was able to handle it, and then the infection must have faded. He apologized and that was it.” She shrugged again. “No use being angry over it. I don’t need you to protect me. I told you I could take care of myself. And it wasn’t really his fault anyway.” She drew her eyebrows together slightly. “I hadn’t known he was attracted to me at all, but I guess he was.” She gave a disinterested little shrug.

    Lex sneered. She was right. There was no use making a scene. But the next time he ran into Lucas . . .

    He wondered if this was the way older brothers always felt. He had a strange attachment to Lucas, and occasionally he really wanted him around. But the rest of the time he either wanted to strangle him or felt ridiculously disappointed in him.

    Chloe poked him in the side.

    The gesture made Lex give a jerk of surprise. It had felt like an affectionately teasing gesture, but Chloe’s expression was still as frigid as it had been. The gesture must have just been to get his attention.

    “You might as well stop worrying about Lucas,” she said matter-of-factly. “He’s gone now. He’ll be back, but you’ll never be able to make a real business partner or friend out of him.”
    She made a flippant movement of her hand. “So why waste your time? Just forget about him.”

    Lex frowned. “You’re right about the first part of that. But I don’t want to forget about him. He’s the only real family I have.”

    Chloe sighed and studied the ground—or maybe his shoes. “I think this is where the feeling must come in. I can’t seem to care about family at the moment.”

    Nodding, Lex put a hand on her arm and nudged her toward her car. “Well, whether you care about family or not at the moment, your father certainly cares about you. You should be getting back to him. I’ll follow you home to make sure you get there safely. Are you all right driving?”

    “I can drive,” she told him. “But my father’s out of town.” And, as if that concluded the conversation, she opened her car door and started getting in.

    Lex stopped her with a firm hand on her bare shoulder and dress strap. “Wait,” he insisted. “You shouldn’t be by yourself tonight. We don’t know what’s caused this or how it might affect you. It’s too risky to let you be alone tonight.”

    She looked vaguely irritated, but it was far milder than her typical exasperation. “I figured it out a minute ago, while we were walking to the car. I assume my condition is connected to the emotional infection. But what happened to me was the opposite. From what I can tell, the infection seems to go away fairly quickly, so there’s nothing to worry about.” She
    made as if she would get into her car.

    Lex didn’t let her. “We don’t know that for sure. Why don’t I take you over to Lana’s, and you can spend the night with her?”

    Chloe didn’t struggle against his grip, and she didn’t appear to be angry at his presumption—both obvious signs that she wasn’t herself. “Lana might not be back yet, and I’m not sure she’ll be in a good state to keep me company.” She brushed a loose tendril of hair back from her pale cheek. “She was very upset when last I saw her.”

    Not having the time or interest to wonder why Lana had been upset, Lex just moved on. “Who else then? The Kents?”

    “No.” Chloe didn’t explain her objection, but her voice left no room for argument. “If you won’t let me go home by myself, I’ll just go to the mansion with you.”

    Lex’s mouth fell open slightly. “There are plenty of guest rooms,” he acknowledged. “But surely you would be uncomfortable staying the night at my house.”

    Chloe stared at him as if he were crazy. “Why? We’re friends, aren’t we?” It wasn’t a rhetorical question, and she made it clear when she continued, “I don’t feel any affection for you right now, but I believe we’re friends. If you insist on my staying with someone, it might as well be you.” She exhaled deeply and glanced away from him. “I have little in common with Clark and Lana anymore, anyway. I’m not sure why I spent so many years trying to maintain their friendships.”

    Lex wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He knew that, when her emotions finally returned, she wouldn’t feel the same way. But the fact that Chloe could entertain such an idea—even in her altered state—was evidence that she was rationally aware that she was growing away from her old friends.

    “All right,” he relented. “Staying at the mansion will be safer anyway. Just leave your car here for now. Tomorrow we’ll figure this out.”

    Without any argument, Chloe nodded and moved to the passenger side of Lex’s Porsche. “Thank you,” she said impersonally. “I believe you are the best person to help me.”

    Lex gave an ironic chuckle. He couldn’t imagine how Chloe would feel about all of this when her emotions were finally restored. But he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be quite so blasé about the whole thing.

    They drove home in silence—Lex feeling vaguely uncomfortable and Chloe apparently unaware of his existence.

    When they arrived, Lex had his staff prepare a room for her, and she said little until she went upstairs and closed the door to the guest room behind her.

    Lex stood in the hall for a minute, reflecting intently.

    He had to admit that it was nice to have a friend. Nice to have someone who would turn to him for help. He wasn’t sure what he could do to help Chloe, but her faith in him—even if it was just the logical realization that he was willing to and capable of helping her—was gratifying. Especially after being abandoned by his brother.

    But he couldn’t place too much significance in it. He believed that Chloe was his friend—which was more than he could say about anyone else—but he could never believe that, once her feelings returned, she would ever turn to him instead of Clark.

    Lex wasn’t stupid and he would never delude himself. Chloe would always be more Clark’s friend than she was his.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Clark strode into the Torch office at about nine o’clock the following morning. It was very early for a Saturday morning, particularly after as late a night as he’d had yesterday, but he hadn’t been able to sleep, so he’d risen an hour ago, taken a shower, and come over to the school to get an early start on investigating.

    He and Chloe had keys so they could access the Torch office when school wasn’t in session. The keys had come in handy over the years, and the Torch office was as good a place as any to use for meeting up with Lana and Gina.

    Maybe Chloe would come by this morning. She often did on Saturdays. Clark briefly wondered where she’d gone the night before, and a slightly bitter voice inside him made note of the fact that she hadn’t even bothered to greet him at the Prom.

    He shook his head, attempting to dispel all thoughts of Chloe. But, as he turned on one of the computers, he admitted that she and her investigative skills would have been very helpful to have around at the moment.

    Now he’d have to figure things out without her.

    A half hour later, Clark was deep in a search for other cases of emotional outbreaks or any unexplained phenomena from a few weeks ago—when the twins first realized their abilities.
    He was concentrating so hard that he didn’t notice Lana until she said from over his shoulder, “You’re up early this morning.”

    Clark jerked and whirled around in his chair. “Lana,” he exclaimed. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

    Her lips twitched slightly. “Sorry. How’s it going?” She gestured to the computer screen.

    Shrugging, he admitted, “Not very well. I can’t find any more cases, and there’s nothing obvious that could have triggered this. We’ll need to wait until Gina shows up, and then we’ll get more information about what she and Kevin were doing around the time they discovered their powers.”

    Lana nodded and sank into a chair beside him. “How are you feeling today?” she asked, scanning his face intently.

    Her concern warmed something in his belly, and Clark gave her a sheepish smile. “I think this must be what a hangover feels like. I’m totally drained, exhausted, and feel kind of sick.”

    “Me too,” Lana whispered, sighing deeply. “Like I went through too much emotion last night and my body can’t quite handle it. I’m so glad you told me the truth, but it’s so
    overwhelming. Almost unbelievable. I guess I’ve known something about it for a while, but how was I supposed to admit to myself that my boyfriend is from another planet? I’m . . . trying not to think too much about . . . who you are. At least, not yet. Not until we deal with . . . everything else.”

    They sat in silence, staring at each other, for a few minutes. Clark could tell Lana was thinking about the same thing he was.

    Their relationship. And what seemed to have happened to it last night.

    There was no rational explanation for the knowledge that twisted in Clark’s gut. But he was experiencing an impending dread—warning him that telling Lana the truth had made things clear just as they’d hoped, but not clear in a way either of them wanted.

    Finally, Lana asked in a wispy voice, “So . . . should we talk about it?”

    “We’ll have to some time,” Clark acknowledged. “But things feel so weird right now that I don’t want to make any absolute decisions before everything has sunk in.” He swallowed hard. “I just don’t know . . .”

    Lana interrupted, “It would be silly to overreact just because we both freaked out. Let’s work on the problem of Kevin first, and then maybe we’ll be able to sort the other thing out. This strange feeling might just be because everything is different now; it might not mean what we think.”

    Clark really hoped so. But part of him still doubted things could be sorted out. He’d had this inkling all year, with all the obstacles and difficulties that had been involved in his relationship with Lana. Like the hardness of it should be telling him something. Then when he’d told Lana the truth last night, it had seemed even clearer.

    His future was going to be something entirely different than Lana’s, and she wasn’t going to be able to share it with him.

    But he loved her. And love could overcome so much. He wasn’t willing to give up on it until he was sure it was the best thing for both of them.

    Anyway, this wasn’t the time to obsess about it. It could be put off a little bit longer. For now, they had to figure out a way to stop Kevin.

    Clark shook his head roughly. Glanced at his watch. “Gina should be here in a few minutes, so let’s see if we can find any information that might be helpful.”

    Lana stared at the computer screen. “Where else should we look?”

    He blinked a few times to clear his vision. Admitted, “I have no idea. I’ve never been as good at the background stuff as I am at the action stuff.”

    Giving a little breathy laugh, Lana brushed her fingers along his arm. “And now I finally know why you’ve always been so good at the action stuff.”

    They locked eyes for a few moments—sharing an understanding that was entirely new and that was unspeakably poignant—until Clark broke the gaze and looked back at the computer.

    “If only Chloe were here,” he muttered. “She could probably find what we need with no problem.”

    Lana furrowed her brow. “Why don’t you call her up?”

    Making a face, Clark responded, “I’d rather not. She disappeared last night, and I don’t know . . .”

    Silence closed in around them for a minute, until Lana whispered, “Do you really think she spent the night with Lucas?”

    Clark gave a half-hearted shrug. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t think so, and she said it was just casual with him. But did you see the way they were dancing?” He glanced down at the floor. “It didn’t look casual to me.”

    Lana twisted her lips. “Yeah. But we shouldn’t assume anything. Nothing was normal at the Prom. And if she did, that’s her choice, and we should try to be understanding. After everything that happened with Jason . . .”

    A familiar heaviness clamped down around Clark’s chest. He kept forgetting about Jason. “You’re right. People do strange things when they’re in mourning. I just wish she’d talk about it with us.”

    “She hasn’t been too big on sharing lately,” Lana put in, the attempt at sympathy on her face transforming into a mild kind of bitterness. “Last night she was really cold with me.”
    “What exactly did she say?”

    Lana looked up at the ceiling and blinked several times. “It was just after I found out about you, and I was really upset. I said something—nothing that made sense, but I was obviously crying—and she completely ignored how upset I was. Just said something sarcastic about us being King and Queen of the Prom.” As she spoke, Lana’s tone grew more and more offended.

    Clark shook his head. “That’s weird. Why do you think she was so mean?”

    “A few years ago, I would have said she was jealous, but you don’t think she’s still jealous, do you?”

    “No.” Clark closed his eyes and thought for a minute. “She just seems to be closing us out.” He turned back toward the computer. “We’ll just be patient with her and see what happens. And we’ll have to muddle through this investigation without her.”

    As they started to search the internet some more, Clark felt another kind of growing knowledge settle upon him.

    If Chloe continued moving in the direction she’d been moving lately, then Clark would have to get used to doing a lot of things without her.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Gina took a deep breath as she stood in front of her brother’s closed bedroom door. He wasn’t a bad guy, wouldn’t intentionally set out to hurt anyone. He just was thoughtless and irresponsible and got caught up in whatever fun he was experiencing at the moment.

    Which meant that maybe—maybe—he could still see reason.

    Before Gina went any farther in working against him, she was going to give one more try at convincing him.

    She knocked firmly on the door and waited.

    Heard nothing in response.

    Knocked again. Waited again.

    Again heard nothing but silence.

    She tried turning the knob, and the door opened easily under her hand. Glancing into the shaded room, she saw her brother lying on top of the covers on his bed, still fully dressed in his rented tux.

    “Kevin,” she asked quietly. “Can I come in?”

    When he didn’t answer, she just went in anyway. Taking a few steps over, she saw he was staring up at the ceiling, his hands linked behind his head.

    “Kevin?” she prompted.

    He completely ignored her.

    “Kevin,” she demanded, her voice growing uncharacteristically impatient. “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?”

    “Thinking,” he said at last, his tone unrevealing.

    Gina’s throat tightened in worry. “Thinking about what?”

    Finally, his eyes shifted over to her. “What do you think?”

    “You have to stop doing this,” she insisted, taking a few urgent steps closer to him. “Someone could have gotten hurt last night.”

    He shrugged. “Did anyone get hurt?”

    “Trevor Jones got a black eye and bloodied lip. And Mike Herman almost got his nose broken.”

    “Minor casualties.” Kevin smiled to himself, a scary look of amused recollection. “Did you see everyone go crazy? It was priceless.”

    “It was stupid,” she exclaimed, a heat overtaking her that was as unusual as it was unavoidable. “It was immature, careless, and dangerous. What would have happened if one of those people you fired up got his or her hands on a weapon?”

    He rolled his eyes. “No one had a weapon.”

    “They might have. You can’t control what happens when you unleash people’s emotions.
    We have our inhibitions for a reason.” She was clenching her fists on either side of her.

    “You’re being melodramatic. I’ve got things under control.” He eyed her in a curious, assessing way. “I’ve never seen you so emotional about anything before. Did I accidentally heat you up too?”

    Letting out a frustrated groan, Gina stormed out of the room. Reasoning with Kevin was futile. A complete waste of time.

    Kevin had no reason to begin with.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex was drinking coffee in the sunny breakfast room in the mansion when Chloe came in. His eyes widened when he saw her.

    Her hair was kinked, and her face was scrubbed clean. And she was no longer wearing her prom dress.

    She glanced down at herself, her face and eyes expressionless. “I asked someone on your staff to find me something other than my dress to wear. This is what he gave me.” She didn’t seem self-conscious or embarrassed about the conversation—although she surely would have been had she had her normal emotions. “The jeans, I guess, belong to one of the maids.”

    Sitting down slowly in the chair opposite him, she poured herself some coffee. “They are rather snug. My hips must be bigger than hers.”

    Lex stared down at his coffee cup. Did not look to see whether her comment was a true one.

    Chloe appeared to not notice his distraction. She sipped her coffee and pushed up the rolled sleeves of the blue shirt she was wearing. “I don’t know whose shirt this is.”

    “It’s mine,” Lex murmured blankly, keeping his eyes away from the shirt in question.

    He wasn’t at all comfortable with this situation. Chloe was his friend, and she was eighteen. And yet she was drinking coffee with him on a Saturday morning, wearing his shirt with a pair of too-tight jeans. Not to mention the fact that she was still wearing the strappy, sparkling heels she’d worn with her prom dress.

    There was nothing sexual between the two of them, but still the scene felt too . . .
    intimate.

    And he really hoped no one would see Chloe wearing his shirt as she left the mansion this morning.

    It would almost certainly lead to misunderstandings.

    “You’re uncomfortable,” Chloe stated, observing him disinterestedly. “Why?”

    Lex pressed his lips together. Apparently, along with her emotions, Chloe had lost all sense of courtesy and discretion. “I realize you aren’t capable of being embarrassed at the moment,” he said coolly. “But, in your normal state, I think you might be.”

    He wasn’t sure what it was that felt so strange to him. He had wanted a friend, someone to be close to, but the intimacy and responsibility of friendship was becoming troubling.
    Lex didn’t really want to be alone, but it was so much safer that way.

    She shrugged slightly. “These aren’t normal circumstances. And you’re the one who insisted I not go home last night. If it would make you feel better, I can put back on my dress.” She paused until Lex shook his head. “Then get over it. Because we need to figure out what’s wrong with me.

    He nodded and cleared his mind. They really shouldn’t be wasting time on trivial things anyway. “Can you recall things more clearly this morning?”

    “I believe so. I slept well last night.”

    Lex wished he could say the same thing. “Can you tell me what you were doing when you first recognized this change in you?”

    She drew down her brows. “It’s a little hard to sort out because I didn’t recognize anything was wrong until I met you at to caves. Before that, it just felt like everything was clear, everything made sense.”

    Lex had no idea how to understand the situation, but his mind was one that strategized automatically, so he suggested, “Then tell me what was happening when everything became clear.”

    Chloe took a deep, steady breath. “I was at the Prom. It was a mess: people fighting, screaming, and making out all over the place.”

    He could only imagine what such a scene would have looked like—a messy explosion of teenage angst and drama. “Then what happened?” he prompted.

    “I was dancing with Lucas, and he was starting to grope me and rub up against me.” She said it as calmly as if she were telling him the time. “So I pulled him out to the hall to yell at him.”

    Lex clenched his jaw, trying to be reasonable and not start cursing his wayward brother. If it really hadn’t been his fault—if Lucas had been contaminated with the emotional intensifier—then Lex couldn’t really hold him accountable for his actions. Except for his being casually attracted to Chloe.

    “I tricked him by making him angry, and then I went into the women’s restroom.”

    “Did he stop coming on to you then?” Lex asked, attempting to keep his voice composed.

    “Not at first. But then he stopped. It must have gone away, because when I saw him next, he was guilty and apologetic.”

    “Was that before or after things had changed for you?” Lex inquired, trying to put these random pieces together.

    “After,” Chloe answered immediately. Then she sucked in a little breath. “Oh. I understand now. It was Gina.”

    He elevated his eyebrows. “Gina?”

    Chloe nodded, looking just as chilly as she had before she’d had her epiphany. “How obvious. She was the only thing that happened to me between my normal self and how I am now. She touched me. That’s how it happened.”

    “So a person made you lose your emotions?” Skepticism was evident in his voice. Last night—and then earlier in this conversation—he’d had a brief moment of panic over the possibility that one of the experiments at LuthorCorp, one dealing with an agent that affected people’s emotions, had somehow leaked out of its secure environment. A person changing other’s emotions might be less likely, but that was certainly preferable for Lex. And for LuthorCorp.

    She stared at him bluntly. “Why not? We’ve had more than our share of freaks in this town. Why shouldn’t one be able to manipulate a person’s emotions? Clark and I were thinking it was a virus or toxin or something. But maybe it has been a person all along.”

    She was right of course. Lex immediately accepted it and moved on. “So she touched you and you lost all your emotions. Do you think she was the one making everyone else crazy? And, if so, why does it seem to have the opposite effect on you?”

    Chloe was silent for a moment. Drunk her coffee. Reflected intently. “It could have been her. She’s always been a little strange.” Then she shook her head. “No. It doesn’t make sense. I was with Lucas the whole time, and she was never anywhere near him.” She put her mug down and crisply straightened one rolled-up sleeve of her shirt.

    Lex rubbed a hand over his smooth head. “So could there be two of them? This is becoming more and more complicated. Who did you see around Lucas at the prom?”

    She closed her eyes, as if she were trying to visualize the scene. “There were hoards of people around. It could have been anyone.”

    “You said Gina touched you before you lost your emotions. So think about who Lucas touched or was touched by.”

    “Mostly just me,” she murmured immediately. “A lot.”

    Lex fought down the automatic rise of anger and managed to remain rational. “Who else?”

    There was silence for a few minutes while Chloe pondered the question. Then her eyes popped open. “Of course. It makes perfect sense.”

    “Who?” Lex demanded, a kind of excitement developing in the air as they finally closed in around an explanation.

    “Kevin Wilson,” Chloe said simply, neither relief nor victory in her expression. “Her twin brother. Lucas backed into him.” She nodded, and kept nodding as she continued, “And he was at the Talon when Lana had her temper-fit.”

    Lex hadn’t heard about this one. Stifled the urge to chuckle at the thought of Lana going hysterical in public.

    “And Gina touched Lana’s neck afterwards,” Chloe said, her tone lifting as the pieces suddenly came together. “Just like she touched my neck in the bathroom. Of course. Gina goes around after Kevin and returns the heightened emotions to normal.” Her lips curled up slightly and she said with brittle irony, “She must have thought I was affected because I was screaming. So she accidentally did the reverse to me.”

    “So these Wilson twins are the key,” Lex concluded. “If their abilities are opposite from each other, then Kevin is probably capable of getting you back to normal.”

    “We should find them, I suppose,” Chloe agreed. “So he can fix me.”

    Lex took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. “It may not be as simple as that.

    Apparently, one or both of them have been going around intentionally affecting people’s
    emotions. We don’t know what their agenda is, but they might not be willing to help us.”

    Privately, he wondered about these twins—wondered if they’d be possible aids to his scientists’ experiments involving the alteration of human emotions. But that possibility could be considered only later, if it was considered at all.

    “True,” Chloe admitted. “But we won’t know until we try. I don’t know where they live, but why don’t you find their address and we’ll go over to confront them.”

    Lex didn’t have any better ideas, so he agreed. After breakfast, they’d go see what they could accomplish.

    They ate in companionable silence—or, perhaps disinterested silence on Chloe’s part—and Lex gradually began to admit something to himself.

    He liked being able to help. Liked being the one Chloe had turned to. But he wouldn’t have been the first person she would have turned to under normal circumstances, and he wasn’t going to take advantage of her unnatural state to isolate her from her real friends.

    So he offered, “If you’d like, we can find Clark and have him help us.” Something inside him resisted the suggestion—he had no desire to bring Clark into his. No desire to see Clark at all.

    It was ironic and a little bit sad, since Clark had once been Lex’s best friend. But things had changed.

    Lex wasn’t even sure he even liked Clark anymore.

    Chloe shook her head. “Why would we do that? What could Clark do that we can’t?”

    It was a good question, and Lex wished he knew the answer to it. “You trust Clark,” he explained, his voice uncharacteristically diffident. “You may not realize it at the moment, but you don’t entirely trust me.”

    She narrowed her eyes. “That’s true, I suppose. But I’m not sure I should trust Clark as much as I do.” She glanced out the window. “He lies.”

    This was something that Lex was sure of as well. Instead of dwelling on it, he said, “But he’s your friend, and he’s a closer friend than I am to you.”

    Chloe shook her head. “I don’t think that’s true anymore. I may not have wanted to admit it before, but I’ve grown away from Clark and Lana. They don’t understand me, and I don’t know why I’ve wasted so much time with them.”

    It was the lack of emotions talking now. Nothing else. “You won’t feel that way when you’re restored to normal.”

    She brushed her hair back from her face. “Feelings often distract us from the truth. I can see things clearly now. I’m different than they are. I’m not interested in them anymore.”

    “I think you’ll change your mind,” Lex murmured. “But we’ll do this on our own. Then we can see how things fall out.”

    As they finished breakfast, Lex thought about how nice it was to have someone around.

    Even if she wasn’t quite normal.

    But he couldn’t get used to it because she’d go back to her real friends once she remembered how much she loved them.

    Lex was just the temporary replacement. He almost laughed at the irony of it all.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lana watched Clark working, talking to Gina, trying to figure a way to fix this situation.

    He was so good at this. So strong and committed and determined to do what was right. She’d always known that about him, and now she knew even more.

    Knew he wasn’t like anyone else, and that he was going to spend his life—use his unique gifts—to help other people. To help the world.

    She was proud of him. Her heart felt full at the thought of it. She was so glad Clark was who he was, so glad he was going to do what he would do.

    But she didn’t know how she would ever fit into his life, knowing what she now knew about him.

    She’d thought it was only his secret keeping them apart. Now she knew it was so much more.

    Gina had arrived at about ten o’clock, saying that Kevin was still in bed and her parents were going to watch him until she returned. The three of them were now going through everything that had happened to her and Kevin in the week before they’d discovered their powers.

    Clark’s first question had been about any contact with the meteor rocks. But Gina hadn’t been aware of any.

    So they were doing it the hard way. Step by step. Rehearsing every little thing she could remember about what she and Kevin had done together.

    It might all be futile. All three of them knew it. The Wilsons might have been born with these abilities and only recently started manifesting them.

    But they didn’t know what else to do. Their best option was to find out how the twins had gotten these abilities and see if they could be reversed. If that failed, things would get a lot more complicated.

    “Oh,” Gina said, looking tired and propping her head up on her bent arm. “We were in a car accident that day.”

    Clark perked up. “A car accident? That’s not a normal thing. What happened?”

    “A truck was stalled in the road, and we were going around a curve and couldn’t see the truck until too late. Kevin was driving, and we were fighting like normal—he was screaming at me and I was infuriating him, as I always do, by remaining cool and rational. Anyway, he was distracted by the fight, but tried to stop in time. He couldn’t, and we plowed into the trailer of the truck.”

    “Were you hurt?” Lana asked, wincing at the image.

    “Banged up a little,” Gina explained. “Nothing serious. The airbags did their thing. The front end of the car was completely smashed though.”

    Clark drew his brows together. “What was in the truck?” Exactly what Lana had been wondering.

    Lana had never really participated much in these kinds of investigations. It gave her a strange kind of satisfaction to know that she was a part of this. Despite the heavy sense of impending doom in terms of her relationship with Clark, Lana was beginning to realize that the world was larger than her own personal issues.

    If she could help here—if she could do some actual good—then maybe everything wasn’t as futile as she’d been supposing.

    Gina shook her head. “Some kind of chemical or something. The driver was vague, but the police looked into it and assured us that we weren’t in any danger. That we hadn’t even had contact with it.”

    “Hmm,” Clark murmured. “That’s our best lead right now. That’s where we’ll start.”

    “Actually,” a cool voice began from the doorway. Lana actually jumped when she heard it.
    Turned to see Lex entering the room. He continued, “I think we should start with a more urgent problem.”

    Clark scowled visibly. “What are you doing here?”

    Lex nodded toward Gina. “Looking for her. Her mother told us she was here.”

    “Us?” Lana asked, feeling strangely nervous as she saw felt tension enter the room with Lex.

    Lex stepped forward, and when he cleared the doorway, the person behind him became visible.

    Chloe followed him into the office, wearing a man’s shirt and a pair of tight jeans. Her rumpled appearance was in strong contrast to her icy, rigid expression.

    Lana felt a familiar bubble of hurt well up as she remembered how Chloe had treated her the previous evening. And that hurt was intensified by her appearance now—strolling into the office with Lex, looking uninterested and like she’d just gotten out of bed, while Clark and Lana had been hard at work trying to solve a major problem.

    Chloe really needed to get her priorities straight.

    Lana could see Clark fighting against his scowl as he looked at Chloe. “Where have you been?”

    Chloe stared at him blankly, as if she hadn’t noticed him until then. “At Lex’s.”

    A brief flash of annoyance crossed Lex’s face at Chloe’s blunt answer.

    Clark clenched his jaw. “Why?” he asked in bewildered anxiety. Then added, “And what are you wearing?”

    Chloe blinked. “A shirt. My only other option was my prom dress.” She just came right out and said it, as if she had no shame or discretion.

    Lana felt physically ill all of a sudden. If Chloe had spent the night at the mansion, then there was one obvious explanation as to why. Lana would have thought it had been Lucas, but Lucas wasn’t here now. Lex was.

    So who knew what had happened?

    Clark rose to his feet, and Lana could easily tell that he was less confused now and more becoming defensive. “What is going on here?” The question was aimed at Lex.

    Lex stared at Clark, a kind of cold resentment in his eyes. “I owe you no explanation. Chloe is welcome to explain if she’d like to.”

    “Stop this,” Chloe told the two of them. “We have more important things to do then indulge in petty theatrics.”

    Lana was surprised at how dry and emotionless her voice was. And at the fact that Chloe was addressing her instructions to Lex as much as to Clark.

    Lex turned to scan Chloe’s face for a moment. Then he nodded and moved back to her side.
    Clark stood tensely, looking very much like he was expecting an assault at any moment but wasn’t sure from where it would originate.

    Lana’s heart went out to him—he must feel so confused and betrayed by what was happening. To some people, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But Clark’s history with Chloe and Lex was so complicated and conflicting—this must just bring everything to the surface.
    Chloe completely ignored Clark. Turned to Gina, who’d been sitting quietly in a corner. “You made a mistake with me.”

    Gina frowned and didn’t answer.

    “Your brother hadn’t touched me,” Chloe explained, her body straight and unmoving.

    Gina’s mouth dropped open as horrified comprehension flooded her face.

    “How do you know about Kevin?” Clark asked, looking like Lana felt—as if he was struggling to keep up with all these new developments.

    “We figured it out on our own,” Lex murmured in cold irony. “Shocking, I know.”

    Lana wondered what was going on with Lex. She’d rarely seen him this vocally hostile.
    Chloe shot Lex a reproving look and turned back to Gina. “Can you reverse it, or is Kevin the only one who can do that?”

    “Only Kevin,” Gina whispered. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I was so flustered, but I was only trying to . . .”

    “It was a mistake,” Chloe told her. “If it wasn’t intentional, then there’s nothing to be sorry about.” She turned back to Clark. “What have you discovered so far?”

    “Is that what’s wrong with you?” Clark breathed, something in his features relaxing. “Gina froze your emotions the way Kevin heats them up?”

    “Of course,” Lex put in, raising his eyebrows in an arrogant expression. “Surely you can recognize that she’s not herself. Isn’t she supposed to be your friend?”

    Lana still felt sick, but now she felt strangely guilty. Because she hadn’t recognized that something was wrong with Chloe. Hadn’t worried about her disappearance or even imagined that she was in trouble.

    Instead, she and Clark had just assumed she’d been off having fun with Lucas.

    Clark glared at Lex but didn’t respond, and Lana felt a lump in her throat. She’d known that tensions were mounting between Clark and Lex throughout the last year, but this was the first time she’d seen them openly confrontational.

    A lot had flared up last night, and it wasn’t only the emotional fires started at the Prom.
    Chloe put a hand on Lex’s arm to silence him, and Lana almost gasped at how silent and unconscious the intimate gesture was.

    If she’d been worried about Chloe’s friendship with Lex before, now she was absolutely terrified.

    “You were talking about a chemical on a truck when we came in,” Chloe said clearly, bringing them all back to the issue at hand. Looking at Gina, she asked, “Do you know anything at all about the chemical?”

    Gina was looking very uncomfortable, and she appeared to avoid looking at Lex. “Not much. Just that it was . . . a . . . a LuthorCorp truck.”

    “What was on that truck?” Clark demanded, his body growing tense again. “Have you been experimenting with the meteor rock again?”

    Lex gave Clark a coldly exasperated look and didn’t answer.

    “What was on the truck?” Chloe asked softly.

    “I don’t know,” Lex answered, watching her with lips pressed into a tight line. Then he turned to look at Gina. “When and where was the accident?”

    Gina told him, and, without explanation, Lex made a short, terse phone call. When he flipped his cell phone shut, he shook his head. “The chemical had nothing to do with the meteor rocks. It was nothing really dangerous, even if it managed to leak out in the crash.”

    “What was it?” Gina asked.

    Lex said matter-of-factly, “An experimental chemical agent that leads to altered emotional states.” Before Clark could burst into the obvious response, Lex went on coolly, “But it’s impossible for it to have this kind of effect. It would have affected their emotions—not led them to be able to affect other peoples.”

    All five of them reflected on this for a minute. Then Chloe asked, “What had you two been doing before the crash?”

    Gina looked pale and exhausted. “Swimming.”

    “Where?” Clark asked urgently, taking a step closer to her.

    Gina looked a little nervous at his intensity, but she answered, “Crater Lake.”

    They knew enough about that particular lake to know that this must be part of the answer. It was the meteor rocks after all.

    “It must have been a combination of the two things,” Clark concluded. “The meteor rock contamination and then the chemicals.”

    It made sense to Lana, and no one seemed to have an objection.

    “So what should we do?” Gina asked at last. “Is there any way to reverse it?”

    “Not the meteor rock’s effects,” Clark said slowly. “I don’t know about the chemical.”
    Everyone turned to look at Lex.

    He narrowed his eyes. “Maybe. As I said, the chemical is still in its experimental stages. But I can talk to the head of research about it.” He was as composed as always, but there was a strange tension radiating off of him.

    “That’s the first step then,” Chloe concluded, the only one in the room who didn’t look nervous and uncomfortable. “Perhaps if we can reverse the chemical’s effects, then their abilities would also be reversed.”

    “Does that sound okay to you?” Lana asked Gina, since she was the one most intimately involved.

    Gina nodded. “Anything. I never wanted these powers, and Kevin apparently can’t handle them.”

    “But we need to restore Chloe before we reverse anything,” Lex said firmly.

    “Of course,” Clark said, not even looking at Lex. “Are you all right for now, Chloe?”

    Chloe raised her eyebrows. “Why wouldn’t I be? Why do you care?”

    His expression flashed pain—like she’d struck him with an unexpected blow. “I’m your friend.”

    “Are you?” Chloe was so cold and heartless that she could have been made of ice. She turned her back on everyone but Lex. “Call your head of research. Let’s try to take care of this as quickly as possible.”

    Lana felt real anger growing in her chest as she looked at Chloe facing Lex, wearing what must be his shirt.

    After all that she and Clark had done for her, after all the ways they’d been there for her, surely Chloe owed them more allegiance than this.

    It hurt Lana—wounded her in a very real way—but she was more upset for Clark.

    Chloe was supposed to have been his friend, and yet she had turned to Lex instead of to him.

    And Lana wasn’t sure that Gina’s touch was the only explanation for it.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Kevin really didn’t want to get anyone hurt. He was just getting so bored with causing chaos in the high school. It wasn’t like he wanted to break down all order in society, but surely he could do something more exciting than causing a few fist fights in the high school gym.

    The problem was that he wasn’t planning anything in advance—he was simply heating up whomever he happened to be around.

    So the key would be to figure out who he should target. Who would he most want to explode into a maelstrom of emotions?

    It had to be someone relatively accessible, which meant someone in Smallville. And it needed to be someone well-known or widely respected—someone who would really cause a stir.

    It only took Kevin a few minutes of consideration to decide on the best candidate. The only candidate, really. There weren’t very many important people in Smallville.

    But there was one at least. And he was always so cool and controlled—who better to heat up and then watch the fireworks that would result?

    Lex Luthor must be hiding some pretty strong emotions under that slick surface. This would make all of Kevin’s other little incidents pale in comparison.

    Kevin smiled to himself and finally got out of bed. All he had to do was change clothes, leave the house, find Lex Luthor, and watch what happened.

    After that, he decided, he’d cool it. This was getting a little old anyway. But if he was going to grow up and be responsible at last, then Kevin wanted to go out with a bang.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex flipped his cell phone closed and glanced through the small window in the door to the Torch office. Gina had gone to find Kevin and make sure he was out of trouble, and Clark had gone somewhere else.

    Chloe and Lana were sitting in the office—Chloe busy at the computer and Lana in a chair beside her, probably trying to help.

    Lex wasn’t sure about Clark’s priorities in this. It seemed to Lex that saving Kevin shouldn’t be the first aim in this endeavor. Were Lex handling this on his own, his agenda would be to restore Chloe and then to stop Kevin. The most obvious way to go about this would be to take Kevin by force and have him turn Chloe back to normal.

    Of course, part of Lex realized how fruitful research into Kevin and Gina’s condition could be for some of his future goals. But too many people knew about it already, so he would never be able to keep it secret. Far better to make sure they could no longer cause any harm—intentional or unintentional.

    He would make sure neither one of them was able to touch anyone else, whatever it took to do that.

    Lex was well acquainted by now with the fact that everyone’s thinking didn’t match with his. So he’d learned to make allowances and work around other people’s moral limitations.
    There was only so far Lex would compromise, though. By the end of this, he would see that Chloe was restored to normal—she’d turned to him for help, after all—and he would make sure Kevin couldn’t cause any more trouble. And if Clark didn’t like his methods for doing so, then Clark could spend the rest of the month sulking.

    As if his thoughts had summoned him, Lex heard firm footsteps approaching from down the hall.

    “Did you learn anything?” Clark asked bluntly.

    Lex nodded. “They have a possible antidote: another chemical that is supposed to reverse the first chemical’s effects. But it’s still in the experimental stages, so there are no guarantees about success.”

    Clark clenched his jaw and stared at a spot just past Lex’s right shoulder. “Could it hurt Kevin if we tried it?”

    Lex was hard pressed not to sneer. “I’m not sure why that should stop us from using it, but no—both chemicals only effect the emotions, and the second shouldn’t do anything that the first didn’t already do. The only issue is whether or not it will work.”

    “Good,” Clark said, taking charge as if he were used to it. “You need to get your hands on some of the antidote.”

    Lex didn’t take kindly to being ordered about, but it just wasn’t important enough to raise a fuss over at the moment. “I’ve already got them working on it. I should have some in the next hour or two.”

    Clark nodded. “Good. Maybe we can handle this without anyone getting hurt.”

    “Maybe,” Lex said skeptically. “But you should be prepared for less pleasant possibilities.”

    Meeting his eyes evenly, Clark said, “I understand that. But we’ll do everything we can to make sure no one—including Kevin—gets hurt.”

    Lex shrugged. He had no interest in Kevin, except to make sure he was stopped. And, while he didn’t actively want the boy to get hurt, it wouldn’t really bother him if he did. “We’ll do what we can. But I assure you I’m not going to put other people at risk in order to keep him from getting a few bruises—when he’s clearly out of control.”

    Glancing back through the window in the door, Lex added, “Look at what’s happened to Chloe. Shouldn’t she be more important to you than some reckless kid?”

    “Kevin didn’t do that to Chloe. Gina did, and it was an accident.” Clark frowned and looked in at Chloe too. “Of course, I care about what happened to Chloe, which is why we’re going to fix her.” Clark darted a dubious glance over at Lex. “And just what’s your interest in this, anyway?”

    Lex had been expecting this. Was surprised it had taken Clark this long to come to the point. “She asked me for help. So I’m helping her.”

    “Why did she ask you for help?” Clark asked bluntly. “Why wouldn’t she have come to me?”
    Lex raised his eyebrows. “Perhaps you were distracted by other things.” He let a speaking glance at Lana make his unspoken point.

    Clark’s frown deepened. “I would have helped her if she’d come to ask me,” he insisted. “But why is she wearing your shirt?”

    And they’d gotten to Clark’s most pressing issue at last. Lex gave a faint smile. Said, “This morning, it was that or her prom dress.”

    He knew it was stupid. Knew it would only rile Clark up. But Lex found himself in a bad temper and irrationally annoyed with Clark and his simplistic perspectives on the world.

    Clark clenched his jaw. “What’s going on? Where was Chloe last night?”

    Lex shrugged. Murmured, “She already told you. At the mansion.”

    It was obvious that Clark was furious, but he was trying to restrain his anger. “She’s only eighteen. If Lucas . . .”

    “Eighteen is old enough to make her own decisions,” Lex said mildly. “But no need to worry about that turn of events. Lucas left town last night.”

    It only took Clark a minute to follow the trail Lex had led him down. “So she was at the mansion with you?”

    Lex raised his eyebrows. Didn’t answer. Knew he was giving Clark the wrong impression, but couldn’t help but do so. Clark’s arrogant presumption that he was always right, and that Lex was always wrong, was really becoming galling. Lex was losing patience with all of it.

    “Lex,” Clark began roughly.

    Raising a dismissive hand, Lex said, “I won’t discuss it with you. You can talk to Chloe if you have problems with where she spent the night.”

    “But . . .”

    Lex sighed. Realized that Chloe wouldn’t thank him for making Clark believe she’d slept with Lex. So he added, “You might do well to remember that last night she couldn’t feel any emotions. While I don’t understand why you think her this possibility is so unworthy, you do her a disservice in always thinking the worst of her.”

    “I don’t always think the worst of her,” Clark countered. “She’s my friend, remember.”

    Lex pressed his lips together. “She’s my friend too.”

    “Is that supposed to make me think you’ve got her best interests at heart?” Clark asked, sticking out his chin. “I know, remember, what you did to your father.”

    Lex’s chest clenched painfully. He should have known this would come up. “Do you actually
    think the situations are comparable?”

    Clark shrugged. “How am I supposed to know anymore? I thought you had the potential to be a good man once, and maybe you do have the potential. But nothing I’ve seen you do lately has given me any faith in you at all.”

    Lex glared at the younger man coldly. “How fortunate, then,” he pronounced, the words falling like ice chips into the silence of the hall. “That your opinion is so unimportant to me.”
    With that, he turned his back on Clark. Strode down the hall toward the exit of the school.
    Wished his last words were true.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Chloe efficiently ran a couple of searches for similar incidents or cases in the surrounding areas. It wasn’t likely that people other than the Wilsons had been affected, but it was wiser to make sure rather than relying on ungrounded assumptions.

    Gina, Lex, and Clark had all left the office, and Chloe was relieved at their departure. There were too many of them, and they were all generating too much emotional intensity. She could see conflict boiling just under the surface of their interaction—see the way they were trying to act normal when none of them felt that way—and it was simply exhausting.

    And unnecessary.

    She knew objectively that there was something wrong with her. That she should be feeling things just as much as they were. That she was just as involved in the layered, tangled threads between these people and that her life had been defined by them for a very long time.

    What she didn’t know was why. It all seemed so obvious now. She simply didn’t have as much in common with Clark as she used to. They both had grown, and they’d grown in different ways. He had different priorities, and he had never fully appreciated her. She was sure he still cared about her, knew he was a good guy and had good intentions, but that hardly was a relevant issue. Her friendship with Clark—she could see with crystal clarity—would eventually die a slow death over the next years.

    So why put them both through it? Why not make a clean break? He had little to offer her now, and she wasn’t interested in wasting her time with him.

    With Lana it was even easier. With Lana, Chloe had never had anything genuine in common. They’d never been true friends, had always just acted the part. And while there might be some mild affection on both sides, it was brought on more by familiarity and obligation than anything else.

    Certainly it wasn’t worth holding on to.

    Lex was different. Lex had never been a real friend until just this last year. He was unlike her in a lot of ways, but they shared more experiences and values than anyone else. And he did have things to offer her—a growing loyalty in contrast to Clark’s diminishing one, an intelligent perspective, an ironic humor, vast resources that she’d for some reason never felt comfortable accepting from him before.

    When she looked at him, she felt nothing—just as she felt nothing when she looked at Clark and Lana. She could see who he was, realize what he might be turning into, knew she would always have to be very careful with him, but decided it was worth retaining his friendship.

    Lex was the only one worth bothering with.

    “Find anything?” Lana asked from beside her.

    Chloe, who’d been absorbed in her own thoughts and her work on the computer, had completely forgotten Lana was beside her.

    Unwilling to let Lana distract her, Chloe didn’t even turn to look at her. “Nothing. I didn’t expect to.”

    “That’s good,” Lana tried again. “Right? We don’t want any more of this going around?”

    “Right.” Chloe typed a new search in and hit enter. Watched to see if anything showed up.

    “Are . . .” Lana’s voice was hesitant, anxious. “Are you all right?”

    Chloe finally turned to stare at Lana, her face unmoving. “I don’t understand that question. Clearly, something has happened to me, and I have lost the ability to feel emotions. But I’m in no immediate danger, if that’s what you’re asking.”

    Lana’s face twisted. “Oh. Okay.” She looked like she wanted to say something, but Chloe felt no impatience or annoyance as she waited for Lana to get the words out. In fact, while Lana reflected, Chloe silently rehearsed what she’d do when they’d completed this nonsensical, trivial conversation. “I wish you’d come to me and Clark for help.”

    Chloe raised her eyebrows. Wondered how moderately intelligent people could utter such absurdities. “Did you have the time and interest in helping me?” There was no bitterness in her voice or in her heart. She just spoke the clear facts as she saw them.

    “Of course,” Lana responded indignantly. “We’re your friends. Or we’re supposed to be. Not that you’re acting like we are.”

    Had she been able to feel anything, Chloe was pretty sure she would have felt annoyed. “I don’t at present have the ability to feel friendship or affection, so there’s no use expecting me to. You and Clark were involved in your own situation last night, so I wouldn’t have even considered asking you for help.”

    “We would have put aside our own issues if you’d asked us to,” Lana insisted.

    “Would you?”

    “How can you even ask that?” Lana exclaimed, sitting up ramrod straight, her eyes shooting out sparks. “It’s like you don’t even trust us anymore.”

    Chloe narrowed her eyes and thought about that. “I’m not sure about that. Clark was loyal to me for a long time and has given me plenty of reasons to trust him in the past, but trust isn’t always forever. Things change, and I’m not sure why people aren’t willing to admit it.” She turned back toward the computer screen. “And keeping secrets isn’t the ideal way to earn trust.”

    Lana sucked in a breath. “What do you mean?”

    Chloe darted a disinterested glance over at the brunette’s pretty face. ‘You know what I mean.”

    There was a long, awkward silence between them. At least, it seemed to be awkward on Lana’s side. Chloe simply put the matter out of her mind and concentrated on her task.

    Until Lana once more broke through her concentration. “I guess I can understand how, without emotion, friendship wouldn’t feel that important to you, but why did you go to Lex for help and not us?”

    Chloe’s eyebrows elevated slightly. “He’s more intelligent and has more resources to help me.”

    Lana gave an outraged gasp at what she must have taken as an insult. “But he’s less trustworthy than we are.”

    “I’m not sure that’s true,” Chloe said mildly, ready for Lana to stop talking now. “He’s made mistakes with me, but he admits them and moves on. He’s been committed to helping me since yesterday.”

    “Probably because he wants something out of this situation,” Lana muttered.

    Chloe ignored this. She realized that Lex often had underlying agendas for his actions, but she doubted it was the case here. She stated, “And I actually wasn’t seeking his help. I wouldn’t have gone to him at all had we not happened to run into each other.”

    Lana nibbled on her lip. Looked very uncomfortable as she asked, “Is there anything going on between the two of you?”

    Staring at Lana blankly, Chloe replied, “I don’t understand that question.”

    She did understand what Lana was asking; what Chloe didn’t understand was why it was relevant, why it mattered in any way.

    “I mean,” Lana pursued stubbornly, “I hadn’t thought there was anything romantic going on between you and Lex.”

    Chloe blinked. “There isn’t. There is nothing like that between us. Is that important at all?”
    Lana looked relieved and leaned back in her chair. “I guess not. We’ll talk again when
    you’re back to normal.”

    Chloe ignored her and focused on the computer. Wondered why people wasted so much time having conversations that were so completely pointless.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Kevin wasn’t sure where he could find Lex Luthor.

    And he was starting to wonder if it was really worth the trouble. It had been a good idea, but Kevin was essentially lazy, and if something took time and effort, then he usually didn’t bother with it.

    Everything he’d done last night had drained him more than he’d expected. Maybe heating people up pulled a certain kind of energy out of him.

    He lounged back in his chair at the Talon, where he’d come after having a fight with his parents, who had done everything they could to keep him from leaving the house.

    Everyone was becoming strangely over-anxious. And it was making Kevin tired and irritated.
    Maybe he would just forget about his plan for Lex Luthor. Or put it on hold until he
    happened to run into the man. Keeping up with these new abilities was beginning to become a drag, so Kevin thought maybe he’d just not worry about them. Only use them when he was struck with a very compelling situation.

    If it drained him like this, then it wouldn’t be as satisfying as he had thought. And it would probably keep getting more and more boring anyway.

    So Kevin had just come to the conclusion to not worry about it after all when Lex Luthor strode arrogantly into the Talon.

    Kevin sneered when he saw him. Then decided that fate must have stepped in to give him a sign.

    The man thought he was so important, thought he owned everything, thought he could have anything he wanted.

    Thought he was untouchable.

    He wasn’t. And Kevin was going to prove it.

    But first, he’d need a distraction in order to get close enough to Lex. Kevin reached out and laid a palm on the neck of a man at the table beside him.

    The man jerked back in surprise and let out an angry exclamation.

    Ignoring him, Kevin got up and touched a few more people, knowing he was heating up their emotions.

    That should do it. Lex was standing next to the counter looking cool and superior.

    Kevin headed over in his direction.

    Lex wouldn’t be superior for long.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Clark rejoined Chloe and Lana in the Torch office, and they worked through some possible plans until the phone rang.

    Chloe picked it up, said a few words, then hung up. “That was Lex. He has gotten the possible antidote from his researchers. He said he’d meet us at the Talon, so he doesn’t have to come back to the school.”

    Feeling slightly irritated by Lex’s presumption in giving them orders, Clark managed to stifle it as he got to his feet. “Let’s go then. Lana, can you call Gina on your cell phone and find out if Kevin’s still at their house? Maybe we can find him, get him to fix Chloe, and then turn you both back to normal.”

    “I doubt it will be that simple,” Chloe remarked coolly, locking the office door behind them.

    Clark frowned. She was right, of course, but that didn’t mean he wanted to hear it. Still—he couldn’t hold it against her. When she got her emotions back, things would return to normal.

    He hoped.

    They made their way over to the Talon, and Lana—after a discussion with Mrs. Wilson—found out that Kevin had left, Mr. Wilson was trying to follow him, and Gina had gone to look for him too.

    This didn’t bode well for the simplicity of their plans, but Clark tried to concentrate on one thing at a time. First, meet Lex at the Talon and get the antidote. Then find Kevin and hope he hadn’t gotten in trouble in the last hour.

    They headed downtown and made it to the Talon quickly. Hurried out of the car and approached the coffee shop.

    When they entered, they stepped into chaos.

    There appeared to be a riot going on. Several people were screaming; others were running around. Two men were having a violent fight in the middle of the floor.

    Scanning the room quickly, Clark recognized Kevin wheezing with laughter in a far corner.

    And then he recognized Lex, who was bellowing out enraged words to anyone who could hear him: something about how the whole town was insane, how he never should have moved here, how he couldn’t trust anyone, and how he’d be better off without any of them.

    Lex wasn’t violent at the moment, just pacing in front of the counter.

    Clark knew by now how Kevin’s touch worked. The emotions grew progressively stronger. Lex must have just been touched, which meant it would soon get worse.

    And he could see a small vial in Lex’s hand.

    Thinking quickly, Clark urgently threw out instructions to Lana behind him. “Go outside. Call Gina. Get her over here quick.”

    Lana nodded and scurried outside. Clark stepped into the middle of the room and easily parted the two men fighting, pushing one forcefully toward the door.

    Several people were still screaming, and someone started throwing oversized coffee mugs at whomever she could hit.

    And Lex had grown dangerously still, standing frozen in the middle of the room, eyeing the chaos, cold fury radiating from him.

    “He’s got the antidote,” Clark murmured to Chloe, who was standing calmly beside
    him. “We’ve got to get it away from him before he accidentally destroys it. Here’s what we’ll do . . .”

    But Clark’s inspired plan came to naught. Because Chloe had paced with icy composure over to where Lex was standing.

    Lex saw her approach. Narrowed his eyes. Clenched his jaw. “You . . .”

    Clark wasn’t sure what Lex was feeling at the moment, only knew it was about to erupt. But Lex wasn’t allowed to finish his sentence, whatever it was.

    Chloe slugged him. Hard, brutal, and efficient. Right in the face. Without any warning at all.
    When he stumbled back against the counter in startled pain, she easily removed the vial from his limp hand.

    Looking for all the world like she’d just bought a blueberry muffin, Chloe returned to Clark. “Now what?”

    Her hand must certainly be aching from the blow, but no pain was reflected on her face. Clark blinked and tried to concentrate on essentials. He nodded over at Kevin in the corner, who was glaring at them in annoyance. “Kevin.”

    When Kevin saw they were headed in his direction, he tried to dart out of the way. But Clark moved quickly, trapped him before he could elude them.

    The whole would have been easy if someone hadn’t burst into the room just then.
    The man that Clark had thrown out only moments before. He’d returned, angrier than ever.
    And this time he was carrying a gun.

    He hadn’t so much as aimed it when people started to scream in terror, ducking behind tables and throwing themselves on the ground.

    This was no time for discretion. It was no longer ridiculous chaos. This was what it had been coming to all along.

    Wild emotions unleashed might at first lead to screaming, fighting, or uninhibited lust. But it would also, always, eventually lead to violence.

    Clark moved. As fast as he could. The place was wild anyway, and he doubted anyone could keep up with the distinct movements of any individual person.

    And if they did, it couldn’t matter. People were in danger.

    And Clark had to save them.

    In less than a second, Clark was standing immediately in front of the man with the gun.

    Directly in front of the barrel of the gun.

    Hadn’t yet had time to react when he heard the gun go off.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lana had reached Gina’s cell phone immediately and was relieved to hear that Gina was nearby. She told her to get over to the Talon as soon as possible, and then Lana peeked back into the coffee shop through the cracked door to see what was going on.

    She couldn’t see the whole room much, but she had a clear sight of a man with a gun near the front door. Before she even had time to panic, she saw Clark almost fly over there. Use his body to block the gun from anyone else.

    Lana screamed when the gun went off, but her screams were drowned by the shouts and shrieks of the rest of the crowd in the Talon.

    Clark had been standing in front of the gun when it was fired. No one else had the vantage point that she had. But she saw. She knew. Even if no one else did.

    It wasn’t until she saw Clark keep his feet, not collapse wounded to the ground, that she remembered that he wasn’t like anyone else. The gunshot hadn’t hurt him at all.
    Lana watched as Clark forcefully removed the gun from the man’s hand and then knocked the man off his feet.

    Her heart contracting painfully, she experienced for the first time how inhuman Clark really was. He’d just been shot. But he hadn’t been hurt.

    And he’d saved everyone in the Talon from whatever the man with the gun might have done.

    Clark didn’t belong in Smallville. Not for long. Not indefinitely. He was more important than that. Would end up doing amazing things for the world.

    Lana knew it. Couldn’t doubt it anymore. Knew she couldn’t hold him back. Couldn’t keep up.
    Would have to let him go.

    In the midst of the lingering chaos, Lana knew this with a calm sense of inevitability. It wasn’t just what Clark was—it was who they both were.

    They’d loved each other. Constructed fantasies about what they could mean to each other. But this was the real world, and real love was far more complicated than dreams could ever allow.

    It might be possible to eventually make something work out between them, but it would just be too hard. Lead to too much heartbreak. And neither of them was really up to it.
    So they should just let it go while they could. While they could still be friends.

    She felt a little like crying, but only a little. She’d cried enough for the last three years, over Clark and over herself.

    It was time for her to grow up and start crying over something else.

    She was feeling very wise and mature when she saw Kevin slink around from the far corner, heading toward the door she was standing behind.

    Trying to get away. Of course. Lana had to stop him.

    She’d never really been a part of this kind of thing before. Usually she was the one being rescued.

    But she had to do something. Clark was busy, and no one but her saw that Kevin was trying to make an escape.

    Suddenly inspired, Lana pulled her little canister of pepper spray out of her bag. She always carried it, but had never used it.

    Might as well use it now.

    So just as Kevin approached the door, she swung it opened and sprayed him full in the face.

    He howled and collapsed to his knees, rubbing at his face desperately and doubled over from the stinging pain.

    Lana stepped into the room. Stood over her handiwork. Saw a startled Clark swing around and stare at her. At what she’d done.

    She felt quite proud of herself.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Gina sprinted down the sidewalk toward the Talon, panting and flushed but moving frantically, as fast as she could.

    She burst into the coffee shop and saw that things were mostly under control. An overwhelming relief washed over her when she didn’t see any blood.

    She’d been terrified, felt a growing horror in each racing step she’d taken toward the Talon.
    Noticed Kevin on the floor near the door, writhing in agony but apparently in one piece.

    The pepper spray Lana was holding like a trophy probably explained Kevin’s agony.

    One man was down in front of Clark, and Clark was incongruously holding a gun. The gun almost panicked Gina, as she realized what might have happened.

    A few people were still raging or screaming, and Gina easily recognized the effects of Kevin’s touch.

    So she hurried over to each of them. Touched them on the neck. Felt each one still and quiet beneath her cool palm.

    She looked around. Everyone else was sprawled around in a stunned stupor. Except for Chloe, who was standing in cold detachment, watching everyone else as though they were mildly curious amoebas under a microscope.

    And then Gina almost jumped when she heard an unexpected roar of rage.

    Lex was holding a hand over his eye as he pulled himself up to his full height. “Who the hell hit me!” he bellowed.

    Gina had the ridiculous urge to laugh as she witness the unflappable Lex Luthor rant and rave. But it was hardly the time to indulge in such petty amusements, so she moved quickly. Had to avoid his wildly gesticulating arm in order to reach his neck.

    When she pulled her arm away, he blinked at her dazedly.

    “Thank God,” she heard him murmur under his breath, after a moment during which he must have put the pieces together. “I believe I was about to humiliate myself.”

    She did chuckle then, enjoying dry humor wherever and whenever she found it.

    All that was left now was Kevin.

    Gina turned with the rest of them to her brother, who was still kneeling on the floor, his eyes, nose, and mouth streaming.

    Chloe, who wasn’t troubled like the rest of them with feelings like fear, anger, or resentment, had quietly gone to get a wet towel and now handed it to him without comment.

    He took it, rubbing his face and trying to pull himself together.

    Despite herself, Gina felt sorry for him. All he’d wanted to do was have fun—yes, he was careless, selfish, and stupid—but he hadn’t been actively trying to hurt anyone.

    She wondered how he’d react now.

    “The gun,” he babbled, almost incoherently as he continued to rub his face with the towel. “I didn’t mean . . .”

    “We know,” Chloe said coldly. “It happened anyway.”

    “Things like that happen when you only think about yourself,” Clark put in.

    Lex rolled his eyes and strode over to Kevin. Hauled him up with unnecessary force and pulled him toward Chloe. “Touch her,” Lex demanded.

    “What?” Kevin choked. “But . . .”

    “Do it,” Lex snarled, pushing him toward Chloe’s still figure.

    Instinctively obeying the harsh authority in Lex’s voice, Kevin reached out and palmed Chloe’s neck.

    When he pulled his hand away, Lex let go of him abruptly, sending Kevin stumbling back, almost losing his feet.

    Chloe had squeezed her eyes shut and put a hand over her belly.

    Everyone was watching her closely, and Lex asked, his voice softer than it had been, “Are you all right?”

    “Yeah,” Chloe breathed. “Feel a little dizzy. And kind of sick.”

    “Did it work?” Clark asked.

    “Yeah. I can definitely feel again now.” Chloe swayed a little bit and reached out to cling to Lex’s arm for support.

    Gina, falling back into her characteristic observations now that the crisis was over, studied the expression on Lex’s face as he looked down at Chloe. Wondered what it meant.
    It was more than simply concern, as Chloe clutched at his strong arm in silent trust. But it wasn’t friendship or tenderness as Gina had ever understood it. Certainly wasn’t a sappy, romantic look.

    What Gina saw in Lex’s eyes was something like surprise, something like loneliness, and something like need. And for some reason it was all now directed at Chloe.

    She shook off the reflections and focused again on the matter at hand.

    Chloe, who had apparently oriented herself again, recovered the vial from her pocket and handed it to Lex.

    He looked at Gina. “This is still experimental. It has had no harmful side effects on any of the test subjects, but there’s no guarantee of it working.”

    “Do it,” she insisted, wanting nothing more than for all of this to be over.

    Lex stared coldly at Kevin. Inquired, “Have you touched anyone else who hasn’t been restored?”

    Kevin shook his head. “The only people I touched today are here. And Gina’s fixed all the people I heated up before.”

    Gina stepped forward. “Do me first.”

    So without further ado, Lex uncapped the vial and misted a light spray in Gina’s face.

    She felt nothing but a damp coolness on her skin.

    Everyone was staring at her, and she felt strangely self-conscious.

    “Well?” Clark asked.

    Gina shrugged. She had no idea whether it had worked or not.

    Lex planted himself in front of her. “Try touching me to see if you still have the ability.”

    Gina reached out and placed a hand on his neck for the second time today.

    When she pulled away, Lex shook his head. “I’m still perfectly normal. I wasn’t frozen. It worked.”

    To be safe, Gina tried touching Lana, but again nothing happened.

    So Lex misted Kevin, and after checking they discovered that both of the twins’ powers
    were now gone.

    Gina wasn’t the least bit disappointed. Was just glad it was finally over.

    The crowd at the Talon dispersed, and soon the six of them were the only people left.
    Glancing at Chloe, Gina noticed that she looked pale, exhausted, and like she was on the
    verge of bursting into tears. And she was leaning against Lex for support.

    Once again, Gina observed closely. The two clearly weren’t in love, but there seemed to be a different kind of bond between them. She didn’t know what it was—just that Chloe had unconsciously sought out Lex’s support.

    Gina also noticed Clark watching the two of them. Saw his eyes narrow in an expression somewhere between disapproval and hurt.

    Occasionally, Lex and Clark would cross gazes, and something tense and icy flashed between them every time.

    Very interesting, she thought to herself. This little situation would definitely be worth watching. Gina was glad things were back to normal, so she could return to figuring everyone else out with her characteristic objective insight.

    Lex left to take Chloe home, and, as Gina moved toward the exit with her brother, she saw Clark pull Lana into a gentle embrace. They both looked exhausted and sad, and it must be from something other than what had just happened.

    Gina furrowed her brow. Another mystery. She’d gotten behind on her observations and would have to work extra hard to catch up.

    Apparently, a lot had happened over the last two days that she didn’t yet know about. Soon, that would change.

    Later that evening, Gina joined Kevin on their front porch, where her brother had been sitting alone for more than an hour.

    She sat in the chair next to him. Didn’t say anything.

    After a long minute, Kevin muttered, “I didn’t mean for anything bad to happen.”

    “I know,” Gina acknowledged.

    “You tried to tell me.”

    “I know,” she said again, something aching in her heart in a way that was unfamiliar.

    Kevin sighed. “What’s going to happen now?”

    “I don’t know,” Gina admitted, having absolutely no idea. Then she quirked her lip. “Except Mom and Dad are really, really mad.”

    Rubbing his face with his hands, Kevin groaned softly. “What an absolute idiot I am.”

    “Yeah.”

    He gave her a sideways look, and Gina smiled at him.

    “Thanks,” he said at last, not explaining what he was thanking her for.

    Gina felt something flood her chest, flood her belly. Couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt anything this strong—anything but fear, that is. But it was here, it filled her, overwhelmed her.

    With a gasp of surprise, she recognized it as love. “You’re welcome,” she said simply.

    And then she sat with her twin brother in silence for the rest of the evening.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Clark stepped into the Talon later that evening. Stood beside the door and scanned the room thoughtfully.

    Everything had been restored to order, and business was back to normal. Apparently, no one cared about what had happened earlier that day, or else they were intentionally ignoring it.

    Clark was never sure which one it was in this town, but some kind of avoidance allowed them to function routinely, despite all the bizarre incidents that occurred.

    He continued to mull over the random thought, since it was a welcome distraction. Clark had come here to talk to Lana—and he really didn’t want to have this discussion.

    He saw her sitting by herself at a table in the corner, her eyes focused on the open, glossy magazine in front of her. She was lovely, as she always was. Small, sweet, and fragile. For so long, she’d seemed to him like an image out of his dreams, but the truth was that she was just a normal girl.

    He loved her for that—and for everything else she was. But her life would probably be lived in this little town. She had a real future here, a good future. A safe, satisfying, secure, happy, normal future.

    Clark knew that’s what wanted: a nice house, a nice family, a nice social position in town. Part of Clark wanted to share that with her—wanted to settle down and live a life like his father’s.

    But he couldn’t. Because Jonathon Kent wasn’t the only father he had. And Clark had gifts—needed to use them, since no one else could do what he could do.

    The incongruity between him and Lana had only become clear once he told her his secret.
    He loved her. And it was possible that love could overcome this. But love of one woman just couldn’t be his priority, not if he was going to devote his life to the world.

    So Clark decided. Hated the decision. Knew it was the right one.

    He walked over to Lana, with his chest aching, his throat aching, his eyes aching. Sitting down in the chair across from her, he wondered how he was possibly going to put all of his feelings into words.

    It turned out that he didn’t have to.

    She lifted her eyes to look at him, and her eyes were just as bittersweet as his were.

    “You know,” he said softly, something easing in his heart at the possibility that she’d come to the same decision that he had.

    She nodded, and he could see a tear bead in the corner of one eye. “I know. I’m sad. But I know.”

    There was nothing else either could say at the moment. So Clark just reached over and covered her hand on the table.

    Held it for a long time in silence, before they finally said goodnight.

    Leaving the Talon, Clark couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so torn apart. His whole life was tumbling down around him. He’d told someone else his secret. Broken up with Lana. Risked discovery by using his gifts in the middle of a crowded room that afternoon.
    And his friendship with Chloe seemed to be crumbling—just like his friendship with Lex.
    Except Clark was afraid that his friendship with Lex had already crumbling, was already rubble around them. And could never be rebuilt.

    Narrowing his eyes, Clark pictured Chloe spending the night at the mansion, wearing Lex’s shirt, leaning against Lex at the Talon in what was clearly a gesture of automatic trust.
    On that thought, Clark got in his truck and headed toward the mansion. Pulled up in front of it, knocked on the front door, and was allowed to come in.

    He was shown into the library, where he found Lex standing, staring blankly at a glass of melting ice. Apparently, he’d already finished his drink.

    “Clark,” Lex said coolly, with none of the warm greeting he’d once displayed whenever Clark paid him a visit. “What brings you here?”

    “Chloe does,” Clark said, trying to force down some of his righteous indignation so that he could match Lex’s icy hauteur. “She’s my friend. And I want to know what your intentions are with her.”

    He hadn’t had time to really think through his words, and after he’d spoken Clark wished he’d put his concerns in a different way.

    His fears were realized when Lex gave a bitter little laugh. “My intentions? What? Are we in a nineteenth-century novel? And are you Chloe’s father, protecting her from a dubious suitor?”

    Clark frowned, but clenched his jaw until he had his anger fully under control. After everything he’d learned about Lex, after all the ways he’d shown himself to be untrustworthy, the thought of Chloe turning to Lex, trusting him, the two of them together . . .

    Clark still loved Chloe, no matter how she now felt about him. He spoke in as frigid a voice as he could muster. “Your experiences with women have never ended well. Your experiences with friendship aren’t much better. If you care about Chloe as you claim to, then you’d just stay away from her.”

    Lex’s face was utterly blank, utterly unrevealing. “Chloe will make her own decisions about who she wants in her life. She would not appreciate your interfering in this way.”

    Clark swallowed hard. Remembered—not so long ago—when this unfeeling man had been his friend. “Don’t hurt her,” he warned.

    Giving a mildly exasperated look, Lex turned away toward the fireplace. “Of the two of us, I think you are the one who is more likely to hurt her.”

    Clark blinked. Clinched his fists. Turned his back on Lex and started to walk away.

    “This isn’t about Chloe,” Lex called out after him. He hadn’t turned around, but he was speaking loud and clearly enough for Clark to hear him.

    Clark froze. “What?” he demanded.

    “This isn’t about Chloe, although you seem to want to pretend it is.” Lex curled up his lips in an arrogant sneer. “This . . . issue between the two of us is about something entirely different.”

    Clark walked away. Knew Lex was right about this, at least. Chloe had somehow become central in this conflict, but she wasn’t at the center of it.

    He knew what was at the center of it: his nature and Lex’s. Their natures had always been opposite, would always repel or destroy each other.

    Clark was fire to Lex’s ice.

    [CENTER]~*~*~*~*~*~*~[CENTER]

    Chloe cried all night, on and off. Sometimes in pathetic little whimpers, sometimes in loud, choking sobs.

    Now that she could feel again, she was feeling everything: grief, betrayal, confusion, anger, resentment, frustration. And affection, and tenderness, and nostalgia.

    She was feeling all of it—all at once, and for everyone involved. It was so, so hard to sort out.

    Everything had been so clear when she’d been frozen. Everything made logical sense.

    Every decision she made had a rational explanation.

    Now nothing made sense. She couldn’t just forsake Clark and Lana as she’d been planning to do earlier today.

    She still loved them. Knew things would never be the same between them, but couldn’t just throw out her lingering affection.

    But she was closed out. Not trusted with Clark’s secret. Pain she hadn’t dealt with in two years flooded her heart.

    And it wasn’t just Clark and Lana. Chloe had no idea what to make of Lex or how she was supposed to deal with his friendship, his isolation, his growing conflict with Clark.

    Plus, there were all the feelings for Jason. For a few fleeting hours, she hadn’t had to grieve every time she remembered him. Now she did—and it was like starting to miss him all over again.

    She sniffed and wiped her eyes, trying to pull herself together. Couldn’t.

    Gave up trying to make sense of anything tonight. Just let familiar, aching images flicker through her mind: Clark’s broad grin, Lana’s wrinkled nose, Lex’s smugly elevated eyebrows.

    Let the feelings wash over her—half reveling in them after a day without, half hating them for how they ripped her apart.

    Her future spilled out before her like a blurred scene in a movie: she would graduate soon, go to college, move on, and possibly shape her life forever. Leave her friends? Make new ones? Cling to the ones she already had?

    It felt like she was at a crossroad, but she didn’t know where either road led.

    Part of her wished she were still frozen. So what if she had been only half of herself? So what if she had thought and acted unnaturally? It had all been so easy, so clear then.

    Chloe was herself again now. Could definitely feel.

    Just had no idea what she felt.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~
    TO FINISH IN CHAPTER 20

  2. #2
    An Accused Heretic Senior Member Kit Merlot's Avatar
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    Re: Episode 19 - Frozen (PG)

    Another excellent episode!

    “We figured it out on our own,” Lex murmured in cold irony. “Shocking, I know.”
    Lex and Chloe always were the smartest people on this show


    “Of course,” Lex put in, raising his eyebrows in an arrogant expression. “Surely you can recognize that she’s not herself. Isn’t she supposed to be your friend?”

    Lana still felt sick, but now she felt strangely guilty. Because she hadn’t recognized that something was wrong with Chloe. Hadn’t worried about her disappearance or even imagined that she was in trouble.

    Instead, she and Clark had just assumed she’d been off having fun with Lucas.
    This really does sum up how non-bright the Clana truly are. They have to realize that Chloe would never act that coldblooded with them, but it's obvious that they don't actually know her.
    Last edited by Kit Merlot; 3rd January 2010 at 05:20.
    KATHY

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